The minister responsible for the provincial Labour Relations Agency, Terry French, is gathering all the pieces he needs to evaluate the province's Labour Relations Act and propose changes.
The Labour Relations Act regulates labour relations and collective bargaining in the private sector.
Speaking with The Telegram Friday, French said he is looking to table potential changes in the House of Assembly at some point during the current session, opening them up to debate.
Changes could have ground-level implications for contractors and workers.
The minister said the Act has been under consideration for some time now, but the review is not connected to any particular industrial ventures on the horizon, including the Lower Churchill.
"For me this is strictly about labour stability," he said.
There are many pieces feeding French's work.
Among them, there is the final report of the Industrial Inquiry Commission. It looked into the almost 18-month labour dispute between Vale and members of United Steelworkers Local 9508 at Voisey's Bay.
The report was issued in May 2011 and, most notably, recommended government assume power to impose collective agreements, in cases where a labour dispute appears to be deadlocked.
More recently, independent labour relations consultant James Oakley looked at the section of the Act covering special project orders at the request of government.
Special project order review
Oakley's report is available online.
In it, the consultant states there are some concerns relating to the continued use of special project orders, but overall "the benefits are significant."
Special project orders, for natural resource "megaprojects" like Hibernia or Vale's processing plant at Long Harbour, are rare. The province has had only five since 1990.
They are applied to large developments and offer the ability to make collective agreements wherein employers have the promise of a stable labour pool, while prospective employees can see wages set for the life of a project.
Following input from labour and industry, Oakley's review resulted in 20 recommendations for changes. Many relate to the formal definition of a special project.
The name applies to projects lasting three or more years, specific to certain geographic sites (for example Long Harbour or Bull Arm). Oakley has recommended the time period be reduced to two years, while the need for projects to be tied to a specific location be removed.
The definition states a special project includes "all ancillary work, services and catering" within the project site. Oakley has recommended this be removed.
He has suggested it be made clear employers can deal with a council of unions (like the Resource Development Trades Council) or a single union.
While the Construction Labour Relations Association requested it be stated they are to be involved in negotiations of megaproject labour agreements, Oakley found their involvement should be at the discretion of the project proponent.
He did recommend the legislation be changed to allow for more than one special project tenant at Nalcor's Bull Arm Fabrication Site at a time. Currently, megaprojects cannot overlap "geographically or spatially."
Impacts to be considered on megaproject orders
The recommended changes come with cautions.
For example, the Hebron Project Employers' Association has warned having more than one operation at the Bull Arm site at a time could mean workers side-by-side with different pay for the same jobs, or disputes over use of shared site infrastructure.
Two megaprojects developing at the same time could compound any existing issues with supply of skilled tradespeople, contractors and sub-contractors, the association noted.
Even so, Oakley has recommended it at least be considered.
"Concerns were also raised with the consultant about whether union membership rules, initiation fees or referral to work practices prevent contractors from having access to certain skilled workers," Oakley stated.
He noted current legislation does not preclude non-union workers from working a megaproject, but also suggests the province monitor complaints regarding access to special project positions.
SPECIAL PROJECT ORDER REVIEW
The following organizations made submissions to consultant James Oakley's recent review on megaproject labour legislation:
Construction Labour Relations Association of Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador Construction Association
Hebron Project Employers' Association
Resource Development Trades Council of Newfoundland and Labrador
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
Emera Newfoundland and Labrador
Vale Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador Employer's Council
St. John's Board of Trade
(Source: James Oakley, "Review of Special Project Order Legislation in Newfoundland and Labrador," Feb. 29, 2012)